Suppose you’re about to buy your first house. You need to make a down payment of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars — more than you’ve ever spent on anything before. This isn’t an expense you can just put on a credit card, and a suitcase full of cash doesn’t seem very secure. How can you make this payment safely?
One option is a wire transfer. This is a secure way to move large sums of money between people or banks. Wire transfers are useful for big expenses, such as a home purchase, or for moving money overseas.
How to Wire Money
Sending a wire transfer isn’t complicated. You can do it from any bank branch or from the office of a wire transfer service. In some cases, you can also wire money by phone or online.
The only part of the process that takes time is gathering all the information you need. A wire transfer is final — once you’ve sent it, there’s no way to get your money back. So it’s important to make sure you have the correct information and enter it exactly as required.
1. Choose a Wire Transfer Provider
There are two ways to send a wire transfer. You can transfer money through your financial institution, or you can use a wire transfer service.
Bank-to-Bank Wire Transfer
A bank wire transfer goes from your bank or credit union to the recipient’s. If the other person’s bank is in the same country, the money should reach their account the same day. For international transfers, it can take a few days.
To transfer money through a bank, you must have a checking account or a savings account at that bank with at least enough money to cover the transfer amount plus the transfer fee. The recipient must also have a bank account to receive the transfer — though not necessarily at the same bank as you.
The easiest way to send a bank transfer is to visit a bank branch. Some banks also allow you to send wire transfers by phone or via online banking. However, some online-only banks don’t offer outgoing wire transfers.
Also, banks may impose limits on how much you can send this way. This limit varies from bank to bank. For instance, at Fidelity, you can only transfer a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $100,000 per day. At Bank of America, you can only wire up to $1,000 per transaction. Check your bank’s rules to learn what the limits are.
Wire Transfer Services
You can use services like Western Union to send money in the U.S. or between countries. This kind of transfer offers more flexibility than a bank wire transfer.
You can still choose to send the money to a recipient’s bank account, but you can also send cash for the recipient to pick up at a designated location. In some cases, you can use a non-bank wire transfer to pay bills.
As with bank transfers, the minimum and maximum amount you can send varies by provider. For instance, with Western Union, you can send as little as $0.01 but no more than $50,000. By contrast, OFX has a $1,000 minimum for transfers and no maximum.
This type of transfer may be available through an office, by phone, or online. However, the amount you can send is often lower for online transfers. For instance, Western Union only allows transfers of up to $5,000 online.
2. Gather the Information You’ll Need
To send a bank wire transfer, you need to provide the following information:
- Identification. You must provide your full name and, for some services, your contact information. To prove your identity, you’ll need either a government-issued ID or online account access.
- Account Number. If you’re not paying in cash, you must provide your bank account number.
- Recipient Identification. You must provide the full name of the recipient. Some services also require contact information.
- Recipient’s Banking Details. Provide the name, address, and phone number of the recipient’s bank. You’ll also need the recipient’s bank account number.
- Transit Number. Lastly, you need a transit number for the bank. For domestic wire transfers, this is the ABA routing number, which you can look up on the Federal Reserve site. For international wire transfers, you typically need a SWIFT code, also known as a SWIFT BIC (business identifier code). This is a number of 8 to 11 digits that identifies a financial institution. You can look up SWIFT codes here.
If you send money through a wire transfer service, you might not need the recipient’s bank account information. However, you need to provide at least a name and location. If you’re not sure what info you need, contact the service ahead of time and ask how its process works.
3. Check Transfer Method Costs
As noted earlier, you can send wire transfers online, by phone, or from a branch of your bank or a wire transfer service. The cost may vary depending on the method you choose. The dollar amount of the transfer and the recipient’s location can also affect the transfer fee.
Some nonbank wire transfer services have online tools to estimate the cost of a wire transfer before sending it. Banks and credit unions may also provide this information on their websites. If yours doesn’t, you may have to call to find out what the charge will be.
4. Review the Terms & Conditions
Before sending a wire transfer, review all the terms and conditions carefully. Most wire transfer contracts include a clause warning that the transfer can’t be reversed once the money is sent. Make sure you understand and agree to these terms before handing over your money.
In addition, U.S. law gives you the right to know the following details about an international wire transfer:
- The exchange rate between U.S. dollars and the currency in the other country.
- The date the funds will be delivered.
- Total fees and taxes for the transfer.
- The amount the recipient will get.
If any of these details are missing, ask for them.
5. Fill Out the Form
The next-to-last step is to fill out a form with all the information required for the wire transfer. Double-check all the details before submitting this form. Minor errors like a misspelled name or an incorrect digit could keep the money from reaching the recipient.
When you’re sure everything is correct, hand over the form along with your money. If you’re using a wire transfer service, you’ll probably need to provide the payment in cash. For a bank wire transfer, the money can come out of your account.
6. Keep Your Receipt
After sending the transfer, ask for a receipt with a transaction number. Keep this receipt as proof that you sent the money in case any problems come up.
The funds should reach the recipient within a day for domestic wire transfers or a few business days for international ones. If the recipient doesn’t receive the money within that time, contact the wire transfer service, present your receipt, and ask for an explanation.
Wire Transfer FAQs
Here are a few more useful details to know about the process of wiring money.
How Much Does It Cost to Transfer Money?
Wire transfer fees vary, but they’re definitely not cheap. For bank wire transfers, fees can be anywhere from $5 to $50. The exact fee may depend on the destination and the dollar amount of the transfer. However, a typical fee is $25 within the U.S. and $45 for an international transfer.
In addition to the fees for sending a wire transfer, some banks charge a fee for receiving one. If your bank charges a fee, it will probably be between $15 and $25 for both domestic and international wire transfers.
If you don’t want to pay this much, consider using a money transfer app instead of a wire transfer. These apps are secure and usually charge no more than 3% of the dollar amount. Some transfers are completely free.
How Long Does a Wire Transfer Take?
Domestic wire transfers typically take no more than 24 hours. International wire transfers can take one to five business days.
The processing time for a transfer can vary depending on the cut-off time at your financial institution. This is the deadline for any transactions to take place that same day. If your transfer is urgent, find out what the cut-off time is and try to make your transfer earlier.
Can You Cancel a Wire Transfer?
In most cases, you can only cancel a domestic wire transfer before the money has been sent. Once it goes through, there’s generally no way to recover it — even if you accidentally sent the money to the wrong account. That’s why it’s so important to get all the details right.
However, there’s a little bit of extra leeway with international wire transfers. You can cancel one if you sent the money within the past 30 minutes and it hasn’t been picked up yet. For transfers you scheduled in advance, you can cancel up to three business days before the transfer date.
Some state laws give you extra time to cancel a wire transfer, and the rules of some transfer providers do the same. The receipt for your transfer should say what the cancellation period is.
What Happens if the Wire Transfer Service Makes a Mistake?
The only time it’s possible to reverse a wire transfer is when the error was the fault of the bank or wire transfer service. This could mean that the bank entered the wrong account number, sent the wrong amount, or sent the same transfer twice.
If your bank or wire transfer service made one of these mistakes, it can reverse the transfer. However, you need to be able to show the error wasn’t your fault. That’s one reason it’s so important to keep the receipt after any wire transfer.
Wire transfers are fast and secure, but they’re also expensive. For most transactions, you can save money by using a different secure method, such as a cashier’s check, certified check, or credit card payment.
Another problem with wire transfers is once you’ve sent the money, you can’t get it back. This makes wire transfers an ideal vehicle for scammers. such as government imposters. They can receive the money fast, pick it up anonymously, and disappear without a trace.
To avoid wire transfer scams, avoid wiring money to any person or business you don’t know. In particular, never wire money to telemarketers or anyone who claims to work for the government.
Finally, any time you make a payment by wire transfer, always verify the identity of the person you’re wiring the money to. For instance, when paying closing costs to a real estate settlement agent, check their credentials. If you discover the agent is really a real estate scammer after you’ve already sent the payment, it’s probably too late.